Implicit and Explicit Biases
Some biases are easy to recognize—like when your uncle makes a racist joke or your mom mentions not wanting to share a bathroom with a trans person. These actions show explicit bias, but others are much trickier to pin down. That’s because, when you have a bias, you don’t always shout that you dislike, don’t respect, or don’t trust a certain category of people from the rooftops. Sometimes, it’s a shift in your behavior or thoughts rather than what you say out loud.
Let’s get technical. Basically, implicit bias is what happens well below the surface. It might be thoughts or feelings that happen subconsciously. When you form an opinion about someone knowing very little about them, you are likely relying on implicit biases to do so.
There’s a reason our brains try to do this, and it’s to avoid danger. If you don’t have all the information, your brain will try to cycle through what you’ve heard or what you’ve experienced in the past to prepare yourself for the situation ahead. However, this means you may not be treating everyone fairly. While it’s fortunate that this process helps us make snap decisions, it’s detrimental to society to consistently make snap decisions when we’re presented with new and better information.
Implicit biases are much harder to understand than merely fixing a behavior or limiting the hurtful things you say. But the more you work to undo the harmful stereotypes lurking in the depths of your mind, the more control you’ll have over your opinions, making you a more rational, informed person. Further, you won’t be as reactionary, acting impulsively from a place of bias rather than intentionally from a place of empathy. If you don’t work on it, your implicit biases can keep you from living a life that upholds your values.
Common Personal Stigmas About Sex
Stigmas typically surround anything that deviates from what’s considered “normal.” So, in the realm of sexuality, it can include things like kinks, fetishes, sexual orientations, and even gender identities. It can also contain ideas about whether you think women should have fewer sexual partners than men, enjoying prostate stimulation being linked with attraction to men, menstruation being a dirty process, or whether or not sex work should be legal. It could even be the fleeting thought that someone who is into BDSM probably suffered sexual trauma at some point in their life.
Sometimes, you can identify your personal stigmas by looking at your past behavior. Are there certain things about your sex life that you would never admit to anyone? Are there friends and family in your life that you feel can be completely summed up by their sexual behavior? If so, it could be because you believe those behaviors are abnormal or say something about a person’s moral character.
You Do You, and I’ll Do Me
Scientists are still trying to understand how to de-bias people so that they can overcome the unfounded ideas they grew up with. It’s a thorny process, and it’s not a quick one, either. But undoing your biases can help you have the space to understand that just because you know about someone’s sexuality doesn’t mean you understand who they are as a person. Below are a few ways to work through your stigmas and biases about sex to become a more open-minded and well-rounded person.
First, start by noticing your patterns. Do you think to yourself “yuck!” whenever you hear about someone who is into pet play, age play, or another fetish? That’s okay! You don’t have to like or be aroused by everything, but you do need to notice that certain subconscious reactions may impact your ability to be impartial.
Then, learn a bit more about the areas where you have biases. Read a book, take a class, or watch an educational documentary. It doesn’t matter how you learn as long as you take steps to educate yourself.
Going a step further can help, too. If you realize that you were stigmatizing kinky folks, it may help to say to yourself, “this behavior is normal and healthy” whenever you encounter someone who practices BDSM safely, sanely, and consensually. Speaking these words out loud can help counteract the toxic subconscious thoughts we have.
Once you are a bit more well-informed, do your best to include people in your life who are different from you in meaningful ways. Cultivating a more diverse group of friends will help you realize that you never can guess what people will be like based on stereotypes and labels.
Education isn’t the only thing that will help dismantle sex biases. It takes action to help get rid of prejudices on a systemic level. Vote for people who will dismantle barriers to equality for those who often face stigma. When we work together, we can make the world safer, more equal, and more fun place to live.